Daniel Stewart: Your Ego Is Not Your Amigo

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Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY DANIEL STEWART

This month we’re going to begin a several month series about coping and defense mechanisms. It’s common for these two terms to be used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different. Coping mechanisms are mental strategies that resolve stressful events while defense mechanisms are behaviors that attempt  to avoid or hide from them. 

Coping mechanisms are called adaptive strategies because they help you adapt to challenging situations, but defense mechanisms are called ego-defenses because they function by avoiding challenges so you can avoid harming your ego. Unfortunately ego-defenses distort reality, making you feel like the situation has improved, but in fact it hasn’t. You might feel momentarily detached from it, but the underlying problem still remains.

A fragile ego can make you blame mistakes on others, repress troubling emotions (instead of sharing them with your trainer), and avoid pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. It’s also a major cause of fear of failure and perfectionism; so it goes without saying that your ego is definitely not always you amigo!

There are many different coping (good) and defense (evil) mechanisms. One of each is described for you below. In the coming months I’ll introduce you to even more.  Hopefully becoming mindful of the difference between coping and choking will help you to pick good over evil!  

Defense Mechanism: Projection

Projection happens when you place your unwanted thoughts or feelings onto someone else, or when you react to your own incorrect impulses as though they were happening to someone else. In this way, you project your own unacceptable feelings onto others. Like when you dislike a judge but make yourself feel better by saying she doesn’t like you, or when you say something like, “I’m not the one who’s afraid of failure, you’re the one who’s the perfectionist!”

Coping Mechanism: Humility

Humble riders have something called positive-realism. They don’t think too highly of themselves, but they don’t think too lowly of themselves either. They make the best of a bad situation without losing their confidence, trying to avoid it, or looking for scapegoats. Humility allows them to create the “just right” amount of self-importance which helps them avoid developing an over-inflated, prideful sense of self-importance that can lead to trying to defend a fragile ego..

Riding is a tough sport requiring tough decisions made by tough athletes. Learn to be that tough rider by taking responsibility for every part of the ride (including the bad stuff) instead of projecting them onto someone else. Learn to believe that the good in you is capable of making a bad situation better.


Originally posted in Daniel Stewart’s Pressure Proof Academy monthly tips.

Daniel Stewart has been an equestrian for over thirty-five years and has coached riders all over the world for the past twenty-five. Combining his knowledge as an equestrian with a degree in physical education, he created an empowering and inspiring clinic series that helps riders develop equally strong minds and bodies. As the internationally acclaimed author of Pressure Proof Your Riding, Ride Right, and Fit and Focused in 52; he’s widely considered one of the worlds leading experts on equestrian sport psychology, athletics, and performance. He teaches clinics and seminars to thousands of riders each year including an annual summer clinic-tour that includes 50 clinics in more than 30 cities over a span of  60 days. He’s a sough-after keynote speaker, has published countless magazine articles, and is an equestrian sport psychology and rider fitness contributor for many other equestrian associations.